Friday, 11 November 2011

Sussex Border Path Section 8 Black Down and Haslemere

Daybreak on Black Down
Autumn has worn on and I was eager to get one more early morning visit to the Sussex Border Path before darkness sets in and no longer provides me with the advantage of extra daylight hours without disrupting too much of my day. I got up for my eighth tour around the Sussex Border Path while it still seemed as if it were the middle of the night!
Upper Roundhurst Farm
I arrived at Black Down car park a lot earlier than it suggested that it would be open and so I was pleased to see that the gate was open at the National Trust Car Park. I had arrived just before sunrise and at the crack of dawn. The light suggested that we would be in for a really special day and certainly the atmosphere, slight mist hanging around and oranges and purples made for a sight that was really worth getting up early for!
Sun Up
I soon discovered the down side of such an early start when I descended from the fabulous viewpoint over the Weald and Downs to the south. My path went down through some thick woodland, which was so dark it felt like it was still night time! Such was the speed of the advancing light though that by the time I got to the bottom and emerged from the wood, the darkness had largely disappeared from the air and daylight was properly underway. By the time I reached Upper Roundhurst Farm I could also see the sun starting to make an appearance through the trees, setting off the warm tones of the rather impressive sandstone built farmhouse.
Golden Morning
I hooked a left and climbed steadily along the tree lined road, hoping that I would get a proper look at the sun. I didn’t have long to wait luckily as I soon found a gateway from where to admire the blood red ball of a sun rising somewhere over Gatwick Airport to the east of me. All across the valleys in front was low lying mist, adding to the autumnal atmosphere. I left the Sussex Border Path a little further on, taking my route to get to the beginning of today’s section of the ‘official’ path. My route took me along fields and through stretches of woodland heading towards the south of Haslemere.To me left, as it would be for much of the way was the sandy bulk of Black Down, surprisingly the highest point of Sussex (and not anywhere on the South Downs as most people would think).
Pine Cones
All the way autumn was properly underway and although it was a beautiful day, there was no hint of the Indian Summer conditions that I had enjoyed on my trip to the Isle of Portland only three weeks earlier. In fact the colours on the trees were properly changing and pine cones and various fruit including crab apples were showing signs of being shed at any hint of wind!
Tree House
Eventually I reached the rather attractive looking High Barn Farm, where one of the outlying cottages had a rather novel looking and luxurious tree house in their back garden. A lucky set of children I thought! I was also surprised to find a foot stool blocking my way, of the type a librarian might use. As abandoned vehicles go, it was probably one of the more unusual I had come across!
I soon plunged back into woodland and was heartwarmed to see a nice tribute to a conservation volunteer named Bernard Farquharson, a Scot by birth but who had loved and contributed so much to the area that his friends and colleagues had marked his passing in 1995. I was supposed to cross what looked like a couple of hammer ponds in this wood, but they were rather lost in the undergrowth and I am not sure that they had any water in them whatsoever.The woodland path soon gave way to another road and I followed this all the way into the outskirts of Haslemere. I merely flirted with the town though, taking a route over the rather affluent looking Haste Hill. This is an area of sumptuous housing and big iron fences and gateways.
This flirtation with Haslemere din’t last long and I descended down quite a steep hill to Stedlands Farm. The character of the walk changed now to one that was more familiar from the last leg – thick woodland and areas of heath in between. I negotiated my way around another hammer pond and eventually up Fernden Hill. The countryside looked like a manicured piece of parkland for a large manor house, although I couldn’t find one on my map. I eventually concluded that the house may have been usurped by a rather ugly block of flats that would be more at home on a university campus. Luckily the path didn’t give me a very clear view close up, although I had seen the block from a distance across the fields about two miles.
Fernden Hill
I reached the main road at Kingsley Green and was rather surprised by the car I had to wait for in order to cross the road – it was an Austin 7! I crossed to the attractive village, arranged around a small village green. I was particularly intrigued by the small garage that had a clock tower on the top – not sure what function this once would have been; a blacksmith maybe? The piece de resistance though was the red telephone box, which was surrounded by sunflowers!
Communication Centre
I pushed on up the road that I had travelled to park the last time I was up this way, hoping that I wouldn’t meet any traffic on the way. The road was so narrow that there was almost no room for a pedestrian to be and I was thankful that I didn’t need to put this to the test! I was pleased to head off across Marley Common, passing a rather attractive lodge house as I did so. This little corner of common land the link to the last piece of Sussex Border Path and I picked up the route once again.My attention wandered across the common to a large black and white beast in the distance. I genuinely didn’t know what it was as it looked a bit woolly for a cow, even though it was the right size.When I got close I discovered it was a cow!Helpfully there was a sign next to it saying that the National Trust was grazing Belted Galloway Cattle here to try and maintain the heathland without it running to scrub.
Marley Common
I dropped off the common back to the main road via a very steep path and was pleased not to have to wait too long to get across. I headed along the small valley that I had been along earlier in the day, meeting the path I had passed in the opposite direction about an hour previously. For the short stretch that I retraced my steps I couldn’t help be surprised by the difference walking in the opposite direction made – it looked like completely different countryside!
Valewood Farmhouse
Back at Stedlands Farm I headed off in a different direction, heading towards the very attractive Valewood Farmhouse. I’m no expert on the age of buildings but judging ny the style I am guessing this might be as old as Tudor? The house wasn’t the only relic – there was an old fashioned tractor left to rot in the front garden! I was so taken with the farmhouse that I have to confess that I paid insufficient attention to my route and continued along the country estate road enjoying my surroundings. I had walked a good half mile before checking the map again and to my horror discovered that I was going the wrong way! Fortunately I corrected myself but had to take a pretty steep path in order to do so. I managed to connect back with the official route at Chase Wood. It wasn’t all bad – doing this enabled me to get some really good views across this parkland type countryside.
Chase Wood
A little further on and the mood of the walk changed considerably as I entered the sandy environment of Black Down. I was really pleased that I had left this until the end of the walk for by now all the clouds had blown away and the sun was lovely and warm, showing off the Scots Pines at their finest. I had been up here once before some years ago, but what I really found remarkable is that it is quite unlike any other part of Sussex that I know. It is like a small patch of the New Forest transported fifty or so miles away and dropped on an unsuspecting part of the world!
Back on Black Down
The only aspect of the last stretch of the walk that I didn’t enjoy was the fact that I felt a bit turned around due to the plethora of paths, few of which appeared to be marked on the map. It didn’t matter as far as the official walk was concerned for the Border Path appears to follow the biggest of the paths. Any chance of me looking around further were rather stymied by this little problem though. Maybe I’ll have another bash on the next leg of the walk?
Black Down
By now it was 11am and I had made the most of the day already! As the day got warmer it was starting to attract walkers and the car park at Black Down was pretty busy when I got back! I headed over to the viewpoint that I had enjoyed at sunrise, but by now the view southwards was rather obscured by the very bright sunlight. I didn’t hang around, feeling happy that I had had an early start and enjoyed the countryside largely to myself. Now it would be the turn of the crowds!